Text by Katerina Katopis for Yatzer.com
Imagine discovering places only a fortunate few have ever visited, traveling deep into the mystical Amazon rainforest, exploring the unexplored, while floating in luxury on board your own private five star home. Imagine that - together with impeccable service, adventure and great food.
Aqua Expeditions is the brainchild of Francesco Galli Zugaro, a true connoisseur in every sense with years of experience in international high end tourism. In always wanting to create luxurious water cruising on the world’s’ greatest rivers, the Amazon was a natural first for one of the world’s great destinations in which to do it.
The journey started upon arrival at Iquitos, Peru’s gateway to the Amazon and the largest city in the world that is only accessible by either boat or air. A two hour drive later through raw farmlands, we arrived at the village of Nauta on the banks of the Maranon River, an upper tributary of the Amazon. As we were pretty much on the equator, it got dark very early. That said, the candle lit pavilion leading to where our boat was docked provided the perfect welcome. Our water safari in the remote and beautiful area of the Pacaya Samiria National Reserve, a uniquely preserved area in the Peruvian part of the Amazon, was about to begin...
Designed by Peruvian architect Jordi Puig, Aqua’s two vessels, the Aqua Amazon and the Aria Amazon, constitute the only uber-luxury boats that in fact sail down the Amazon. With 12 and 16 suites respectively, they are like floating 5-star luxurious hotels, with panoramic views thanks to the large windows that have been incorporated throughout their exterior facades. All the suites within are decorated in soft hues, wood, locally weaved fabrics and crisp white linens. The previously mentioned large floor to ceiling windows bring the breathtaking scenery along the river’s banks almost inside as the vessels glide gracefully through calm waters. As I lay on my bed – my room was on the ‘ground floor’ – I felt as if I were floating on the water watching a movie unravel in front of my eyes, a spectator to a collage of sights and sounds: families travelling along the river in their canoes, kids playing on the its banks, low flying snow-white egrets swooping just above its edge and pink dolphins jumping playfully in the water... one glorious morning, I even woke up to a sky bursting in color that cast a golden-pinkish glow all over the river.
I was travelling on the Aria, the slightly larger vessel, which features a lounge area with a library and comfy sofas, a small exercise/massage room, dining room and a beautiful sun-deck with a Jacuzzi ideal for chilling or stargazing on a clear night.
On board, it’s all about attention to detail and the provision of high-end services including a doctor and emergency medical care, security, and even a handful of naturalists - biologists who have grown up around the Amazon, and are very enthusiastic in sharing all their knowledge with the guests onboard. Thanks to Juan, Julio, Ricardo and Roland, we had a crash course in all things Amazonian in only four days – a testament to Aqua’s commitment to supporting wildlife preservation in the Amazon River region. There is thrice daily room service, and the staff quickly picks up on your preferences, and call you by your name – keeping things very low key and personable. When it comes to the food, well, the journey is a culinary feast even for the most demanding foodies, perfectly complemented with a very good selection of fine wines by the glass, cocktails and Peru’s epic national drink, the ‘pisco sour’. Created by Peru’s star chef Pedro Miguel Schiaffino - of Malabar fame - the daily changeable menu is a celebration of Peruvian jungle food, featuring local Amazon flavors and ingredients, fresh fish and Andean harvested quinoa.
The twice daily expeditions with the specially designed skiffs, would take us up streams, black water lakes and rivers, and even on ground expeditions through the dense rainforest. Upon returning, sweaty and hot from the humidity and the excruciating sun, cold drinks made of exotic local fresh fruits would await to quench our thirst.
Other memories from my incredible trip include the egrets and storks that soared overhead, colourful kingfishers that would fill the rainforest in bursting colours and squirrel monkeys that would jump around the thick canopy of the river banks. We found red howler monkeys at sunset, fished and caught razor-toothed piranhas, swam with pink dolphins (yes they are pink but don’t exactly look like dolphins!), and unsuccessfully looked for an anaconda. Gliding through the narrow waterways that mirror the jungle tree line, we spotted several sleepy three-toed sloths, hundreds of brightly feathered birds in all the colours of the rainbow, families of macaws, playful caimans, even the elusive capybara – the largest rodent on earth that looks like a pig! We trekked through the forest in search of three meter wide Victoria giant water lilies, visited thatch roofed villages on stilts where half naked kids would run with a big smile towards us, and even learned about the medicinal qualities of the Amazon’s plants.
But the best part of it all, was sitting in the middle of nowhere, lost in the Amazon, with no cell phone coverage, just listening to the sounds of nature, awe struck with the beauty, serenity and colours of it all. Natural perfection at its very best! This has, hands down, definitely been one of my greatest adventures, executed in impeccable style in one of the world’s last unexplored frontiers. I can’t wait for the next Aqua Expeditions adventure, this time along the Mekong river, coming in autumn 2014!